Perennial INSIGHTS: Sheila Thomson talks about delivering one-to-one help to those who need it most

As the government’s welfare reforms continue to affect families in work across the UK, Sheila Thomson, Director of Services at Perennial, talks about how her team of trained, professional caseworkers and debt advisers deliver one-to-one help, advice and support to clients.

How does your team stay abreast of changes to central and local government legislation and guidance in order to offer up to date help and advice?

“The casework and debt advice teams are in regular receipt of updates to relevant legislation that affects our clients and attend training throughout the year to stay abreast of future changes as well as those about to come into force. The ongoing welfare reforms are of particular concern as the changes are so wide-ranging. We have a duty of care to those we support to give up to date advice and as such must stay informed.”

Why do so many working clients need financial help?

“Horticulture, in all its branches, is generally a low-paid, seasonal profession which is prone to job insecurity and which often carries considerable risk of injury. Together with the risk of illness, family breakdown, bereavement and other life challenges common among the general population, it is easy to see how our services are needed now more than ever. Even trained, skilled horticulturists in regular work find their salary is insufficient to sustain the financial pressures that family life often brings. Most of our clients are already managing strict monthly budgets to try to cope with low incomes but when the unexpected happens – an essential car repair or boiler breakdown – there often isn’t a cushion to fall back on. It can be difficult to put anything aside for emergencies when your income only just (and sometime doesn’t) covers your essential outgoings. A large part of our job is helping people access additional financial support in these ‘emergency’ situations. This is sometimes offered directly as a grant, sometimes via other charitable funds, and sometimes via the government’s complicated benefits and welfare system.”

How do you prioritise clients and ensure Perennial’s help is reaching those who need it most?

“Our telephone helpline and online help form act as a crude triage system. Urgent cases are quickly flagged but everyone who contacts us receives an initial phone call within 3 working days and a home visit within 10 working days. We visit people at home for several reasons but the main one is that people often call us about their most pressing and urgent need e.g. a final demand letter or a missed mortgage payment, but we need to understand the whole situation to ensure we’re helping in the most appropriate way. People are proud, usually come to us as a last resort and their needs are often the most basic requirements to survive; food, warmth and shelter. We address those needs as a priority and do so as quickly as possible, especially in the case of the elderly and those with young families. We’re here to help everyone working in or retired from horticulture and the sooner we can start working with someone in need the better.”

What do you foresee as the challenges for people working in this profession over the next few years?

“It seems likely that ongoing welfare reforms will continue to affect all those both in work on low incomes and out of work due to redundancy or seasonal working patterns. We expect a continued rise in the need for crisis grants – vouchers to cover food as costs rise but salaries don’t – and a rise in debt management cases. We are looking for new and innovative ways to deliver services to people at times convenient for them, including introducing a regular late night advice helpline every Wednesday. Horticulture is an industry that is often seen as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity and as budgets are squeezed generally we also predict further job insecurity. We will continue to offer our free and confidential services to all those who contact us and we will continue to raise awareness of Perennial amongst those working in horticulture across the UK in order to reach more people each year.”

If you, or someone you know, works in horticulture and needs help, contact Perennial in confidence today on 0800 093 8543 or fill in an online form here. Find out more about how Perennial can help here.